The rehearsal process - if all goes well - is a love story. A love story between you and the character. Because often, when you first look at the script your character is a complete stranger. You may empathise all you want but you still only know it or understand it from the outside.
No matter how much research I do, how I try to make every detail relevant by making substitutions in my mind (see the excellent "Respect for Acting" by Ute Hagen)... the magical transference from "her" to "me" is still out of reach. It a necessary part of the process but it's also b****y scary.
There are times when you never find the umbilical cord that links you to your character... and then you end up with something not very nice... not very real. Ever watched a film where you simply couldn't warm up to a character? Where you thought: I don't think this actor likes his character very much? Well, that's the missing umbilical cord (technically it's not missing, it simply hasn't been found).
Luckily for me, I find improvisation very useful in that hunt of the umbilical. Ever played make believe as a child? How real did it feel at the time? Couldn't you just taste the imaginary apple tart and peach cobbler and the tea served in your miniature Limoges tea set? (Or was that just me...) That's improvisation. Some people find it scary. I don't. It's the door to freedom and dreams and somehow the character takes over within a few seconds of the exercise starting and without me realising it and says things and does things, thinks things... and then after the exercise is over I come back to myself and sit down with the director and analyse the process discover so many things I didn't know! And suddenly, the character starts to make complete sense.
You suddenly understand, not with your head, but with your heart, why they are doing certain things in the course of the play, why they say certain things and how they say them. You no longer judge is as good/bad, wrong/right, funny/sad... it becomes the only way to behave, to think, to be... and that's an indescribably delicious feeling.
A feeling of freedom, a feeling of growing affection and love for this character who slowly merges into you and you into it. And if you work hard, and are very lucky, and don't peak too early, you're in for a real treat, playing a long lost twin, playing a former self from a past life, playing the person you always knew you could be.
That's what acting's really about. People will tell you that they get into it for fame and money but finding your character and celebrating it is what gets you through the rigours of drama school, through the endless castings for TV commercials, the bit parts, and the hopes of the next job.
THE SHOW: Isabelle will be playing "The Woman" in Desire/Desig by Josep Maria Benet i Jornet, 13-31 July, White Bear Theatre (London), directed by Julia Stubbs, co-starring Simon de Deney, Anabelle Cleare and Stephen Connery-Brown. For tickets: http://tiny.cc/gplor